Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 30 August 31 - September 6, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Official - Saddam Was Not an Imminent Threat
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was narrow - yet he has exposed the truth about the Iraq war
After eight days of
the Hutton inquiry and enormous quantities of media coverage, it is worth
pausing to try to take stock. Many of us have said that, deliberately or
otherwise, Alastair Campbell's decision to go to war with the BBC had the
potential to distract attention from the most important questions arising from
the Iraq crisis - whether the nation was deceived on the road to war, and where
responsibility lies for the continuing chaos and loss of life in Iraq.
Lord Hutton has been
charged with inquiring into the narrower question of the circumstances that led
to the death of Dr David Kelly and will report on this very important question.
But his inquiry is revealing important information that casts light on the
bigger question of how we got to war.
There is an
unfortunate tendency among some commentators to seek to narrow the issue to a
blame game between the BBC and 10 Downing Street. This has led to comment to the
effect that Dr Kelly was the unfortunate victim of a battle between two mighty
institutions, accompanied by a campaign of vilification against Andrew Gilligan
and the Today programme. It is important to remain constantly aware of the
vested interests at play: the Murdoch empire and other rightwing media
operations would like to weaken and break the BBC so that British broadcasting
might be reduced to the sort of commercially dominated, biased news reporting
that controls the US airwaves. It is extremely unfortunate that a Labour
government has been willing to drive forward this campaign against the BBC.
We must not allow
the barrage of biased comment to mislead us into a fudged conclusion that it was
six of one and half a dozen of the other. And we must focus both on the
pressures that were placed on Dr Kelly and the wider question of how we got to
war in Iraq.
The inquiry has
already established beyond doubt that, despite government briefing that Dr Kelly
was a medium-level official of little significance, he was in fact one of the
world's leading experts on WMD in Iraq. It is also clear that Dr Kelly chose to
brief three BBC journalists - and presumably others - to the effect that the
45-minute warning of the possible use of WMD was an exaggeration. He said to the
Newsnight reporter Susan Watts, as well as to Gilligan that Campbell and the
Downing Street press operation were responsible for exerting pressure to hype up
the danger. The inquiry is exploring the reality of that claim. But it is
already clear that Dr Kelly made it, to Gilligan and Watts.
The BBC would have
been grossly irresponsible if it had failed to bring such a report - from such
an eminent source - to public attention. It is a delicious irony that Alastair
Campbell castigates the BBC for relying on one very eminent source for this
report ... and yet the 45-minute claim itself came from only one source.
As a result of the
Hutton inquiry, we now know that two defence intelligence officials wrote to
their boss to put on record their disquiet at the exaggeration in the dossier.
Moreover, one official asked his boss for advice as to whether he should
approach the foreign affairs select committee after the foreign secretary had
said that he was not aware of any unhappiness among intelligence officials about
the claims made in the dossier.
We know through
emails revealed by Hutton that Tony Blair's chief of staff made clear that the
dossier was likely to convince those who were prepared to be convinced, but that
the document "does nothing to demonstrate he [Saddam Hussein] has the
motive to attack his neighbours, let alone the west. We will need to be clear in
launching the document that we do not claim that we have evidence that he is an
imminent threat. The case we are making is that he has continued to develop WMD
since 1998, and is in breach of UN resolutions. The international community has
to enforce those resolutions if the UN is to be taken seriously."
I agree completely
with Jonathan Powell's conclusion. But it follows from this that there was no
need to truncate Dr Blix's inspection process and to divide the security council
in order to get to war by a preordained date.
If there was no
imminent threat, then Dr Blix could have been given the time he required. He may
well have succeeded in ending all Iraq's WMD programmes - just as he succeeded
in dismantling 60-plus ballistic missiles. Then sanctions could have been lifted
and a concentrated effort made to help the people of Iraq end the dictatorship
of Saddam Hussein - just as we did with Milosevic in Serbia.
Or if Blix had
failed, we would have been in the position President Chirac described on March
10, when the issue would have come back to the security council. And in Chirac's
view, this would have meant UN authorisation of military action.
The tragedy of all
this is that if we had followed Jonathan Powell's conclusion, and the UK had
used its friendship with the US to keep the world united on a UN route, then,
even if it had come to war, a united international community under a UN mandate
would almost certainly have made a better job of supporting Iraq's
reconstruction. In this scenario the armed forces would have concentrated on
keeping order; the UN humanitarian system would have fixed the water and
electricity systems; Sergio Vieira de Mello, as Kofi Annan's special
representative, would have helped the Iraqis to install an interim government
and begin a process of constitutional change, as the UN has done in Afghanistan;
and the World Bank and IMF would have advised the Iraqi interim authority on
transparent economic reform, rather than a process of handover to US companies.
terrible bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, there is a danger that those
who favour chaos in Iraq will make further gains, at great cost to the people of
Iraq and coalition forces. The answer remains a stronger UN mandate and
internationalisation of the reconstruction effort. The worry is that the US will
not have the humility to ask for help, and the chaos and suffering will
In the meantime,
Lord Hutton will draw his conclusions about the tragic death of Dr Kelly. My own
tentative conclusion is that Downing Street thought they could use him in their
battle with the BBC, and that the power of the state was misused in a battle to
protect the political interests of the government.
resigned as British international development secretary in May.
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